Music: Historical Chronology--Ancient Era

Figure 1.--The earliest depiction of music we know of appeared on the Royal Standard of Ur believed to date from about 2,600 BC. It was found in the Sumerian city state of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, although well after the high point of ancient Sumer. It was classified as a standrd, but that is unlikely. It appers to be a hollow wooden box with fascinating scenes of war and peace on each side. It was found in a royal tomb in Ur next to the skeleton of a ritually sacrificed man who may have been its bearer. The scene here shows a leader at a banquet attended by a lyrist and a long-haired individual, possibly a singer. Both appear to be adult men, although we are not positive about the singer. Much of the Standard depicts an army, one of the erliest depiction of an ancient army. Source: British Museum in London.

With the advent of ariculture we have the development of much more sophisticated societies and the appearance of witing and more refined arts including music. We see musical instruments such as the lyre in the earliest civilization --Sumer in Mesopotania (figure 1). The lyre was probably the most important and well-known instrument in the ancient world, althouh this varies among the different civilizations. The majority of musicians who played the lyre were male, but a few artistic depictions (the clay dancers from Minoan Palaikastro -- 1420-1300 BC) show female lyre players. Some ancient civiliztions like the Hittites left little or no pictorial evidence. Egypt was an exception. Ancient Egypt had a rich musical tradition includung a wide range of musical instruments. On the linked pageswe see a variety of stringed instruments including a lyre. Studying ancient music is very difficult. Archeologists can find instruments or representations of instuments in art and sculpture. And there are some rferences in available literary works. But because musical notation had not yet been invented, there is no way of knowing about actual musical compositiins and just what ancient people accomplished with their instruments. Music in the Roman Empire is particularly important as the Empire was the vessel in which Western Civilization and Christianity developed. The early Church, however rejected music, expet for the human voice. Instrumental music and dancing at the time was asoociated with immoral practices and thus rejected by the puritanical Church, rather like Islam today. The Chirch would, however, play a major role in the development of modern music. Weare sure about gender and age trends. Egyptian images show beautiful women playing instruments. The Biblical story of David describes a boy who has learned a musical instrument, a lyre like the Ur musician here. The lyre was one of the major instruments of the medieval era, we think because it used little expensive metal and was fairly wasy to construct. The Greeks saw music as part of a wll rounded education. Music (specifically playing the lyre) was a n intergal component of Greek education. Even pretigious mythical figures learned musica as part of their education. Achilles was, for example, taught to play the lyre by the wise centaur Cheiron. Plato considered that the lyre or kithara, another or more difficult stringed instrument, were the only acceptable instruments for musical training. A music education was not as important to the Romans, but Nero was of course famous for his fiddle.


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Created: 12:36 PM 1/21/2016
Last updated: 12:36 PM 1/21/2016